Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Techniques for Maintaining a Low Larynx and Open Throat in Classical Singing

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Techniques for Maintaining a Low Larynx and Open Throat in Classical Singing

Article excerpt

THERE IS SUBSTANTIAL OBJECTIVE EVIDENCE to support the time honored, widespread acceptance of the open throat as an essential component of classical singing technique.1 When the larynx is relaxed and low and the base of the tongue released, the pharyngeal wall relaxes and widens. The acoustic result of the throat shape created by this combination of actions is a balanced timbre (bright/dark), smooth negotiation of register transitions, and the presence of the singer's formant-acoustic phenomena that allow for optimal projection with the least amount of effort. These circumstances aid not only in marketability of the voice, but also contribute to its overall heath, as minimal vocal effort improves endurance and decreases the likelihood of injury.

This aspect of technique is challenging for most singers. Because a sustained low larynx and wide pharynx are not the norm for speech in the majority of individuals, voice students seldom have pre-established muscle memory for this action. Extensive resources for finding and reinforcing this element of classical singing technique are essential. A high larynx often accompanies unwanted tension in the tongue and pharynx, which can negatively affect the position of the soft palate. Pedagogic strategies presented here not only facilitate a low laryngeal position, but also encourage relaxation and widening of the pharynx, while allowing the soft palate to assume a desirable, widely arched position.

The singing teacher must be aware of the many factors that, individually or collectively, are likely to inhibit this throat position. Typically, extraneous tensions engage the laryngeal elevators and disturb the delicate balance between the elevators and depressors. The same tensions that affect laryngeal position also can limit expansion of the pharynx. One must keenly observe the singer, both visually and aurally, to identify the scope of these tensions. The following questions are among those one can consider:

* Are tensions in the jaw or tongue causing a problem? (The answer is always yes.)

* Are these tensions present during the inhalation or do they begin at onset? * Is body alignment a factor?

* Is breath coordination such that the folds adduct efficiently?

* Do initial consonants cause a problem?

* Does the singer have the typical problem with singing front vowels without appreciably raising the larynx?

* Is the upper register the primary challenge?

Of paramount importance is the coupling of any method designed to lower the larynx with the intentional release of the tongue. A simple way to detect the presence of tension in the tongue is to be sure it is readily visible in the mouth, even when looking up at the student from a seated position. The tongue should be full, wide, and slightly arched in its neutral position. Occasionally, the root of the tongue tenses without visibly affecting its body (the part we can see in the mouth). For this reason, one should listen for absolute clarity of sound and quality of vibrato, as tongue tension manifests in extraneous noise in the voice and/or a vibrato that is too prominent, uneven, wide, or too narrow. One must proactively address the issue of tongue tension before and during the implementation of techniques for achieving a low larynx. (A previously published article devoted to the subject offers specific suggestions regarding this complicated task.)2

The position of the jaw affects the musculature of the larynx, tongue, and pharynx. When the jaw protrudes or its muscles tense, the throat cannot release to the optimal position. The jaw should swing slightly back and down during inhalation while the tongue relaxes laterally toward the molars and the soft palate stretches to a wide position. One can easily feel the impact of jaw position by inhaling to an open throat position, then jutting the jaw forward and back. (Similarly, the result of poor head/ neck alignment is noticeable, both aurally and physically, when one sustains a pitch while alternating between a forward-reaching head position, and that in which the spine is properly aligned. …

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